Earlier this week, Entertainment Weekly published a "Guys on Girls" review tackling the second season of the HBO dramedy. The article began with an introductory paragraph that warned the reader about "all the awkwardness you can imagine when two men try to talk about female issues." The article bears more than a passing resemblance to a format that Slate has used since Girls first premiered — separating the site's two weekly review roundtables into gender-divided articles called "Guys on Girls" and "Girls on Girls."
After two seasons of Girls (with a third on the way), it's time to drop the pretense that there's anything noteworthy about a guy reviewing Girls, along with the hand-in-hand implication that Girls is just for women.
We don't see similarly gimmicky review concepts like "Two and a Half Women on Two and a Half Men," or "Senior Citizens on The Secret Life of the American Teenager." And yet many male critics still begin their Girls reviews by asserting their guy-ness. Slate and Entertainment Weekly are certainly not alone; scads of male reviewers have positioned their articles on the series as "a dude's take on Girls" (including such noted critics as James Franco, who bravely admitted in a Huffington Post article that he "can get off on female bonding").
(Full disclosure: I reviewed each of Girls' 10 episodes this year. I don't think being a man played any role in my ability to judge the strengths and weaknesses of the show's second season. Feel free to judge for yourself whether I'm right.)
Critics of both genders evaluate films and TV shows that don't reflect their day-to-day experiences all the time (unless the rest of my fellow critics are secretly superheroes, or cops that play by their own rules). Part of being a worthwhile critic is developing the ability to objectively evaluate all kinds of art, and not just the art to which you can personally relate. There are times when it's worth bringing personal context into a review, but it should never be a requirement for writing one. Women have reviewed films and TV shows about men for decades without clarifying that their reviews are coming from a woman's perspective — because for good critics, it doesn't matter.
And even if you do believe a reviewer must be able to relate to the material he or she is critiquing, is it really that surprising or remarkable that a man could relate to the girls on Girls? I've never needed to schedule an abortion or been groped by a sleazy boss, but it's easy to empathize when the characters on Girls are put into those positions because I can imagine how painful and unpleasant those situations would be. Girls is doing its small part to counterbalance decades of male-centric TV shows, but its characters' problems — as they are in any quality piece of art — are essentially human problems.
Acting like there's something difficult about men empathizing with and relating to Girls undersells both the show and the male critics assigned to evaluate it. When the third season of Girls premieres next year, let's all agree to put the reductive "Guys on Girls" construction to rest, and prove that there's nothing remarkable about people — be they male or female — on Girls.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The mystery behind China's aggressive push into space
- The best places to find love — and lust — according to science
- How a drafting error could doom Obama's carbon regulations
- This simple hack for slicing cherry tomatoes will astound you
- Sex can't explain the culture war
- How the battle for religious freedom became a nonsensical free-for-all
- How to save Meet the Press
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- Why GOP reformers are bound to fail
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
Subscribe to the Week